Niassa Province, Diocese of Lichinga, Mozambique
by Kenneth Thesing
The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers assumed responsibility for this area in January, 1998. We came to begin this new mission project at the request of the Bishop, Dom Luis Gonzaga Ferreira da Silva, S.J. He lacked the personnel to name a resident pastor/priests to this parish which area is the same as the Lake District.
The parish runs well over 150 kilometers (more than 100 miles) north to south and about 50 kilometers west to east (30 miles) along the east side of Lake Niassa (Lake Malawi) and starting at the Tanzania-Mozambique border in the north.
Originally started in the 1950s the first parish was constructed at Cobue. It included a fine, boarding primary school and middle school with teacher preparation. During the war for independence, running from the early 1960's to 1974, this site was destroyed by the fighting. The parish center was moved to Mechumua first and, when that was destroyed, came to its present site of Metangula in 1973. During the internal civil war, which ran from the late 1970s until October, 1992, the parish church was closed for a period by the government. No resident pastor was available until our arrival.
Our focus, therefore, has been to get to know the people and the territory. We had to begin by studying Portuguese, which is the national language and that used by government, education, etc. As the first Maryknollers in Mozambique – at least in this area – we had to begin learning the culture and customs of the people.
We wanted to take time to do this. And it literally became an integral part of our way of operation as many of the villages can only be reached by walking. No roads, even motorcycle or bicycle paths, exist to many villages. Now with almost 50 villages somewhat organized as praying communities, about 25 of them can be reached along the lake by boat. So we have had a boat constructed of wood here at the lakeshore by a locally well- known and respected boat-builder. Complete now, it is a great assistance to our work.
Also this fall of 2000, we are beginning reconstruction of the buildings at Cobue. When complete, it will allow us to hold meetings, seminars, formations courses, etc. for catechists, animators, women, and youth from the northern part of the parish. Up until now, some of the leaders from the north had to walk for up to five days one way to get here to Metangula.
Supplying our communities with simple liturgical and catechetical materials is a very time consuming job. It means that the communities often have to wait and wait. Many of the liturgical books are only printed in Malawi as a similar language is used there. Song books, too, are printed there, not here. So we are working to prepare a Sacramentary of the liturgical prayers for use here. We are also working to put together a Hymnal in the local language, Nyanja. Some of these books existed years ago before the wars; only a very few copies are still extant.
Besides emphasizing the revitalization of the Christian communities and the formation of catechists and animators, at least three other foci are present in our work and goals. First is education. Many communities do not yet have a primary school. The Diocese has a project both to teach Portuguese literacy to adults and to foster primary schools where they do not exist. We have six literacy centers and two primary schools operating and will sponsor more as we can. Also, there is a Junior Secondary School in operation under Diocesan sponsorship. It needs much in the way of supervision and upgrading. The Diocese sponsors a program to establish and supervise Health Posts where these do not exist in villages. We have many such villages and so far three Health Posts. We would like to open more, and there are communities ready to build the buildings – including the Post itself and a house for staff.
And this touches only on the more obvious things. But there is much more – for example, the need to spend time with the youth and with those scarred by years of war and refugee status who are struggling to rebuild their lives.
There are many difficulties in the work; there are many consolations, also. Mostly I am grateful for the opportunity to work here, to do what I can do to present the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a holistic and integrated way, and to offer to all people at least the opportunity to respond to God's love in their own way. It is a humbling mission.